“I am not an opposer of resource classes and resource schools. Some groups need to be in another enviroment than others. I went in one myself and it saved my life. I am very grateful for this opportunity that sadly many children don’t get today in Sweden. All children are supposed to fit in the ordinary classroom. I think this is wrong.” -Alexander Skytte
“I want to believe that this is not a book like any other. In “The boy with extra everything – how teachers can respond to ADHD and autism” I want to give you insight into the critical aspects that came to shape me into the independent, adult individual I am today. And what was about to lead me to crime, addiction and a premature death.”- Alexander at Skola och Samhalle
THRIVE Nordics: When did you decide to write “Pojken extra allt” (The Boy with Extra Everything)? Was there a specific moment when you realized you wanted to share your story for the public?
Alexander: Yes there was. For about 3 years ago I struggled in my relationship with my girlfriend. I had a hard time at work. Usually when this happens I run away. I break up. I change work. But not this time.
My girlfriend has PTSD and had just gone through a DBT treatment. She told me that I need to go to the psychiatrist, because, she observed, there is something else there than “just” ADHD. She thought I had autism. And the more I read up on it, the more it made sense. So I went, did the diagnostics and got the result. Autism type 1.
This made me wonder. Has my growing up and time at school all been a missunderstanding, since I didn’t get the “right” diagnosis? The more I reflected, the more this made sense. And I started to realize why I acted like I did and what I would have needed that I didn’t get. So I decided to write as I reflected and analyzed my childhood and progression into adulthood, basically up to the point of the autism diagnosis.
I cried a lot at night as I was writing. All the felings that I had pushed away, deep inside of me, came to the surface. I started with a little tip of thee iceberg but as I started digging deeper down, the water cleared and the iceberg began to emerge up from the water. And it was so big, so overwelming. All the thoughts and feelings – why didn’t anyone notice this earlier? How could nobody have seen and understand how I was feeling? How hurtful it was for me to hurt others, with no understanding why the things I did was hurtful at all.
So I wrote this book, so other neurotypical people can understand how I work. How others like me might work. To give a deeper understanding.
THRIVE Nordics: At Skola och Samhalle you write about your book that: “Hopefully it can help us to see these children and understand how they reason/think. Because often when you look back you wonder – how did it really go for that person? What is he doing today? Did everything go well in the end?” This is a very valuable perspective, understanding the impact of children’s school experiences on their later young adult and adult selves. Can you give a little preview of how you yourself were able to turn away from more dangerous elements and towards a more constructive path?
Alexander: I would say that everything starts with self-consciousness and awereness of ones needs and struggles. The problem for most autists is that they are met with requirements that are hard for them to follow. They are met with low understanding and a presumption that they are ill-behaved. It is not like that at all. Autistic people just don’t fit in the norm.
So the problem with this is that I got yelled at a lot. People always told me what I couldn’t do. They always kept an extra eye on me so I didn’t misbehave. Of course I noticed this, even as a child. And it was hurtful. It hurt my self esteem, it hurt my self awereness. So much to the point that I wasn’t able to take critique at all. I avoided situations where I likely would fail. I avoided at all cost to do wrong or be talked down to. This made my life very restrictive. And when I got my autism diagnosis I decided to do something about it.
So I challenged myself to be in situations I found uncomfortable. For example I hate making phonec alls. But I started doing it more and more when I was in a good mood, because then it was easier to do it. To dare.
And, maybe most of all, I started to respect my shortcomings. I need to be able to move a lot during the day. I become uncomfrotable when I sit still for too long. Also, I don’t like adults. Adults lie, they fake emotions and they break promises. Children don’t do this. When they do, they suck at it. So one can easily spot it. That’s why I enjoy working with children. They are genuine and I need to live in an genuine world.
So the choice to become a P.E teacher was quite easy. Although the studies were far from it and pushed me into a lot of difficult situations. The thing that saved me most here was my determination. You can’t compare the determination of an autistic person to anything else. It is pure, almost manic determination, and is why autistic people often reach far when they have the right circumstanses to do so.
THRIVE Nordics: Your book is focused on how teachers can work with children with ADHD and Autism but is probably of interest as well to parents of such children, correct? What are your thoughts about today’s situation, in which so many children with ADHD and Autism diagnosis are not coping in school or are “hemmasittare”?
Alexander: The short answer is that in Sweden, our education system has faced budget cuts for almost three decades. The lack of resources in school leads to the dysfunctional working enviroment being blamed on the individual. But the real reason is that there are too many children in the classroom and too few teachers and staff. You see a child not coping with the school enviroment and then often the child will be blamed for destructive behavior.
This makes me really sad. And I want to move the focus away from the individual child to the surroundings, to the enviroment that isn’t working, to the teacher, to the staff. I put no blame on the teacher. I know, since I am one myself, that in some situations it is just meant to collapse. No matter how much you know about ADHD and autism, there is no way to prevent a breakdown. The problem lies in the economy. But the important thing to always consider, especially when one is angry, is never to put blame on the child. The child is forced to be in this situation. I am not.
THRIVE Nordics: Do you have any ideas for how the current schooling model can be changed and improved to truly accommodate children with NPF diagnoses?
Alexander: First, I am not an opposer of resource classes and resource schools. Some groups need to be in another enviroment than others. I went in one myself and it saved my life. I am very grateful for this upportunity that sadly many children don’t get today in Sweden. All children are supposed to fit in the ordinary classroom. I think this is wrong.
Second, in contradiction to what I just said, I think the ordinary classroom should widen the perspectives it allows to work within its walls. For example, some children need to move. A lot. Give this child a bike in the classroom. Give the whole class movement tasks to complete. Make the structure more clear and anticipate changes. Transitions are always the hardest for autists, these need to be prepered.
Thirdl and maybe most important, I believe that schools need to be better to include autistic children in what is considered to be “normal” and help all children respect the charactaristics of autism. Not as something wrong and weird. Just as something different. Just like one person differs from another person. It isn’t something strange or wrong.
THRIVE Nordics: Do you provide workshops for teachers and parents?
Alexander: I have lectures on demand and frequently get asked to help educate school staff, which I love to do. I know that it is very appreciated to get to hear from someone who has lived with diagnosis and now works as a teacher as well. We can communicate and understand each other in a way only teacher colleagues can. This is full circle for me.
THRIVE Nordics: Can you share more about what led you to becoming a teacher and how your own experience having ADHD and Autism influences your work with children?
Alexander: As I mentioned earlier, the main reason is that children are more genuine than adults. That is why I enjoy working with them. My own experiences help me see the small changes that need to be made to make a leasson work. It can be the simplest thing like changing a color or dividing workgroups differently. Even telling instructions in a specific way helps the children feel more comfortable and understand. My biggest strength I think is being able to help other pupils respect and understand each other. Not just ones with ADHD and Autism, but in general. I can give them a lot of perspectives on the current situation and give them different views.
One saying in Sweden is that you can’t see the forest for all the trees. I think I can help pupils see the forest. Likewise I sometimes can help them spot a specific tree when all they see is a forest.
Alexander Skytte is a Swedish middle school teacher. He himself is diagnosed with ADHD and Autism. He strives to teach his colleagues and others about the obstacles one needs to overcome when one has a disability.